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Pay for U.S. truck drivers is 'unbelievably low': Jetco CEO

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

This post has been updated.

The labor market has continued getting tighter for many industries across the U.S. in the last few years. At the end of 2017, there was a shortage of 51,000 truck drivers. That number is expected to increase by the end of 2018.

Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco, a Houston, Texas-based transportation and logistics company, noted low truck driver pay despite the shortage of truck drivers in today’s economy.

“I saw an article maybe about a month ago that said the average over-the-road truck driver at a for-hire carrier makes about $48,000 a year, which is kind of an unbelievably low number,” Fielkow said on Yahoo Finance’s `Midday Movers. “Because when you look at the risk that these professional men and women take to deliver our goods and the amount of time away from home, we have to start with money.”

Truck driver Kurban drives his truck in Buena Park, California. (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn)

In 2017, the median truck driver pay for heavy and tractor-trailer was $42,280 per year, and $20.42 per hour. For delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers, that number is even lower at $29,250 per year and $14.06 per hour. 

“We’ve got to pay professional drivers what they’re worth to continue attracting the best,” Fielkow said. “That’s just the starting point. We have a lot of work to do as an industry to bring people back into the trucks.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers will grow 6% from 2016 to 2016, “about as fast as the average for all occupations.” The rate is slower than average at 4% for delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers.

Truck driver pay is surprisingly low, given the need for drivers. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In 2017, the states that employed the highest number of “heavy” truck drivers were Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The highest average annual wage, however, was in states like Alaska, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Nevada, and the District of Columbia.

Fielkow describes pay in his company as “significantly above the average, because we want to hire and retain the best drivers.” He believes it will continue to “create upward pressure on rates.”

His company runs locally and regionally and as a result, most of his drivers are home almost every night.

His company isn’t the only one trying to improve pay and working conditions for truckers. On Friday, Yahoo Finance’s Julia La Roche reported that Walmart has been able to ramp up its hiring of truck drivers even amid a nationwide shortage. First-year drivers can make $86,000 a year and accrue up to three weeks of paid vacation. Additionally, “the retailer offers quarterly safe driving bonuses, benefits, and doesn’t make its drivers load or unload freight,” Yahoo Finance noted.

Two freight trucks are driven on the Fisher freeway in Detroit, Michigan (Photo: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

According to the Washington Post, a big deterrent from being a truck driver for many is the lifestyle, which includes a big chunk of time on the road and away from home.

“That’s a big selling point,” Fielkow said. “That’s a big advantage. I realize a lot of people can’t offer that. Home time is absolutely critical.”

For now, the focus remains on retaining the number of truck drivers in the industry.

“If a recession hits, demand might drop temporarily,” Fielkow said. “But you’ve got to keep your eye on driver supply. That’s the real key in our industry right now.”

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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